The co-creator of the Tor web browser, Paul Syverson, was speaking in front of technical specialists and journalists in a sun-lit, airy conference hall in Manhattan’s Museum of Jewish Heritage. This setting was in complete contrast to the to the theme of the conference:
“Inside the Dark Web”, with discussions on the anonymity of ‘onion routing’ and cybercrime online.
Science fiction daydreams and hypothetical talk between the techs was cut short toward the end of Syverson’s keynote speech when he stated, “Medical identity theft is poised to take over as the primary form of identity theft,”. There was silence.
In the U.S, this is already a huge problem. In the last six years, in excess of 155 million individuals have been compromised in data-breaches. Perhaps the largest portion of responsibility for this lies with the institutions, though the patients are not without blame; individuals require and increasingly rely on convenient online health services. If their connections are not secure, then it doesn’t matter how hardened the hospitals security is.
Tor can help with this problem, Syverson insists. He spent much time explaining the technology of Tor, and used the relevance of ID theft to illustrate the safety using it affords. The down-loadable service helps users stay anonymous when navigating and provides ‘sites that are not accessible via searches like Google. Users who learn to navigate this way do not leave pieces of information in search engines that hackers can track.
Syverson compared using anonymous routing to encryption. About 15 years ago – before the regular cyber-attacks and data-dumps of today – users did not understand the need for encrypting online information. Today, he pointed out – user encryption is routine and accepted as necessary. He gave an example, “Back then, if you were encrypting your website, people were like, ‘Oh, what do you have to hide?’ And now it’s recognized as a fundamental enabler of eCommerce,”.
To re-enforce his point, Syverson referred to an health care NGO developing a “dark” site for anonymous online drug tests, anonymous online health services, anonymous online chat, anonymous research questionnaires for health’. In the age of online mass communication, to browse anonymously is responsible. Especially when it involves using health records and other personal credentials.
Many are still skeptical about Tor, probably because of the association with criminal elements.
“There are bad guys that use this, too, just like there are bad guys that use cell phones, hammers and lots of other things,” Syverson responded to this point.
When asked if Tor and anonymous browsing should be more accessible to the average user, he shrugged and replied: “It’s not hard at all. It’s drag and drop, click ‘download’ — and it runs on your computer“.